Thursday, September 28, 2006

Love Thursday

Instead of the usual Thursday Thirteen, I am going to make a list of people, things, events, and feelings I love - or like a whole lot.

- I love the sound of my kids laughing as they play with and chase Maya.

- I love going to bed at night. The instant when my head hits my rather firm pillow is one of the highlights of my day.

- I really like my new bedsheets: nice sale on 420 thread-counts at JCPenney. Deep eggplant color. Deep comfort.

- I love the fact that, except for when I consume caffeine after 4 PM, I have never had difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. For that I am enormously grateful.

- Nonetheless, I introduced myself to the wonder of sleeping pills last night. A friend recommended the Harris Teeter brand sleep aid. The box said to take two pills. I took one. Very soon thereafter, I was out cold. Even when I got up in the middle of the night to go pee,thanks to my nightly ritual of chamomile and lavender tea, I felt the unmistakable weight of sleep on my mind, my body, and my eyelids. Nice feeling. And that was with only one pill. I think I will try two at some point soon.

I took the pill because I am thinking of using one on the plane next Friday night when I take the flight to Germany. The final destination is Sevilla, Spain, but "you can't get there from here" - without one stop in Munich and another in Barcelona. Normally I wouldn't think of taking a pill on an international flight, but with a full eighteen hours of travel ahead of me, I will need to get a few good hours of sleep on that first leg of the journey.

- I love to travel: near and far. Long and short trips. New places, familiar places. There is so much beauty in the world, so many people to meet, so much food to sample, and the best way to experience the world's many wonders is to get out there and see it, touch it, smell it, taste it, and hear it for myself.

- I really like it when the phone rings, I check the caller ID and see the name and number of someone I love and want to talk to. I also like being able to let unwanted or unexpected callers leave a message.

- I love my children's eyes and hands: expressive, gentle, wondrous to behold. I still marvel at the fact that my body created their bodies. That somehow I served as a vessel for bringing two new souls into the universe. What an honor. What a responsibility.

- I also love my husband's hands, so strong, so soft, so tender.

- For the past two mornings, I've foregone my morning exercise tapes and taken to the streets. Thirty to forty minutes of walking, while doing bicep curls and lat raises with my dumbbells, and praying my way through my neighborhood make for a great way to start the day.

- I love music. Last night after I was finished with a brief meeting to discuss the upcoming trip to Spain, I slipped into the sanctuary of my church to listen to the praise group practice for Sunday. That song they were singing, whatever it was called, is one of the most beautiful anthems I've heard in a long time. Voices, instruments, fine acoustics, and an audience of One. Not me, no. God was the audience. To Him be the glory.

- I love the fact that in the midst of the messiness of life,
the chronic pain that is ripping through Alexis's ten year old body,
the confusion in the mind of the mentally ill, like Claire,
the loss of people we love to death, especially Kathleen's father,
the horrific disease of cancer in Bill,
the trauma of labor and delivery that Rashaa just endured,
the insecurity of job loss for people like Albert,
the fear of deportation that haunts so many people I know,
in the midst of the music, the art, the travel,
and the restorative sleep I so richly enjoy,
in the midst of all that,
there is hope.
There is faith.
There is love.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Today I opened the windows

I opened all three windows in the kitchen and the window in the downstairs bathroom. While that may not sound like a big deal, and in the greater scheme of things it really isn't, it was a very big deal to me. The heat of a Charlotte summer is not conducive to much window opening. Recent ant trails rendered the idea of opening the windows foolhardy. So for months, two of the kitchen windows and the bathroom window remained shut. (The one window over the sink is opened more often than the others.)

One of the kitchen window frames had been invaded by a spider. That rather industious critter had erected a rather elaborate home for itself which served as an ample pantry for its edible delights. When I opened that window, the spider retreated into one corner of its web and waited to see what rather large intruder would soon be transformed into its winter store of food. In the adjacent window sill, a variety of flying and crawling critters had met their doom. I assume it was death by starvation as the cracks around window screen had allowed them to enter, but they couldn't make their way back out.

I sprayed with an earth-friendly cleaner, let it sit for a minute or two, and then wiped out the debris. Yuck. I followed that with an application of earth-friendly orange oil based bug repellent, and left the windows open. Fresh air circulates in my kitchen and bathroom even as I write. The fragrant scent of orange oil is pleasant to our nasal palates, but apparently it is toxic to the critters that would make our home their own.

On Saturday at that writing conference, I opened the windows to my heart and soul. Dead critters that had entered but hadn't been swept out were lying in the corners and crevices of my dusty, dingy mind. The cobwebs were thick with carcasses of things that brought fleeting satisfaction in days gone by, but had long since been stripped of any nutritional value. I knew it was all there; I could see it. The windows were shut, yes, but I could see through the pains/panes into the window sill. Yuck.

I wrote about ice wine and unharvested corn that had puckered and wilted on the stalk. I wrote about sadness and sorrow. I cried for myself and my thirsty soul. I thought about friends that matter and fears that don't. I pondered the patterns I'd established: patterns of codependence, of self-pity, and of pretending I'm perfect. If I'm perfect, or act like I'm perfect, I don't have to admit to the messiness, the staleness, the deadness that sometimes feels more real than anything else in my life.

This morning I pulled out Michael Yaconelli's Messy Spirituality again. His opening sentence is the story of my windowsills and the story of my life. Quite simply, honestly, and profoundly, he begins: "My life is a mess." It was after I'd read the first chapter of that book for the third or fourth time that I got up, grabbed the Sun and Earth cleaning spray, a bunch of paper towels, and opened that first spidery window.

Enough is enough.
It's time to clean house,
starting with the window closest to where
I was sitting as I read.

Cool fresh air poured in.
Sunshine poured in.
The sills are clean and bug-free.
It smells great.

For now.
Within a very short time, I will have to do it again.
Ain't that just like life?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Ice wine, anyone?

No one who knows me well is surprised when I say that I like sweet things. Sweet coffee, tea, candy, cookies; if it's first five ingredients include sugar, I'm all over it. So imagine my glee when I was introduced to ice wine nearly two years ago at a dinner party across the street at a neighbor's house. Phil and Alicia invited us over for a meal that had been lovingly and exquisitely prepared by Phil's brother. What a meal! Palate cleansers between courses. Cheese and fruit tray. (Lemon stilton cheese is a delight.) Fine crystal glasses and china plates. I was impressed.

But the high point of the evening for me was the small glass of ice wine that was served with dessert. (Or was it dessert???) Phil's brother explained that ice wine is produced from grapes that are left on the vine long after the autumn harvest. These grapes are allowed to freeze on the vine. Then they are carefully plucked, pressed, and fermented. The result is the sweetest wine I've ever tasted - and I have been known to suck down white zinfandel with abandon.

The bottles are usually narrow in shape and high in price. Normally, there aren't many bottles on the store shelves, but each one has a beautiful label and a story all its own. Frozen grapes picked with frozen fingers, carried into icy barns, run through chilled presses and vats. It has to stay cold. And months later, perhaps years later, it arrives at the tables of expectant and extravagant diners in fine goblets. Yum.

It's been a tough summer around here. Family crises. Drought conditions. Ant invasions. Marital apathy. I've been bored at times. Lonely at times. Missing faraway friends in distant cities. Wishing for long walks on wide boulevards in Madrid, Rome, London, and Barcelona. Wishing for the sun, sand, and surf of Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, and Menorca. Lots of feeling sorry for myself.

This Saturday at an all-day writing retreat, those two disparate lines of thought came together. I was feeling a lot like a frozen grape on the vine. Left to chill. Neglected. Forgotten. Waiting. Wishing. Hoping. From the vine to the winepress. "Ouch. That hurts. Crushed. Mashed. Squeezed. Pressed still more to squeeze out still more of my very lifeblood. Enough; I've had enough. I give. Uncle. What's it gonna take to release the pressure?"

As I wrote and cried and wrote and cried some more, as I thought and rethought, looked back and craned my neck to try to look ahead, it hit me: ice wine is the best wine, the sweetest, the finest, and certainly among the most costly. Frozen, then crushed, then savored. It takes time, pain, and patience to get that wine, but it's certainly well worth the wait and the work.

Perhaps the best is yet to come for me as well.
Perhaps there is sweetness to be gleaned from what feels like bitterness.
Warmth from the cold.

Sitting there, I remembered how blessed I am.
To have the husband I have.
These two beautiful children.
Even though they sometimes press me, pull me,
crush me, and press me some more, there is still hope.
Hope that love, passion, and fire are possible again.
To that hope I now cling.

On Saturday night, Steve and I went out for dinner. Our first stop was The World of Wine, a huge store dedicated to the drunken debauchery of Charlotte's many fine residents. We wandered the aisles marveling at the varieties and the cost of the wine. There were 1/2 kegs of beer on sale for over $100. Insane! I saw Rothschild Pauillac wine for over $200 per bottle. And some bottles were more expensive than that.

Needless to say, we bought ice wine. It's chilling in the fridge, awaiting the time when we will open it, pour it into our not-so-delicate glasses, and raise a toast to the sweetness that can come from the most frozen of tundras. Here's to hope.

Anyone care to join me in a toast?
I'll bring ice wine.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Thursday Thirteen (written on Sept. 21, but posted on Monday, Sept. 25!)

1. Tomorrow is my son Daniel's 10th birthday. Born into a tub of warm water at a birthing cottage in Peekskill, New York, he surprises us, makes wet messes, and unconventional entrances into our family life every day. I'm absolutely crazy about this kid, and I give thanks daily to God for bringing him into our family.

2. Kristiana's birthday is only six weeks away. She's going to be a teenager - and I'm not sure I'm ready for that. Not sure at all. For every story of mothers and daughters whose relationships deepen during the teen years, there are 49 horror stories of bitter arguments and hateful words. We are determined to be one of the few mother-daughter combos that survive these years intact. We covet your prayers.

3. I received an email the other day describing a bike accident in which the wife of a recently retired pastor severed her spinal cord and has been left a paraplegic. Such sorrow. May God have mercy on her, her husband, their children, and all who will be charged with caring for them in the coming days and weeks. They too covet your prayers.

4. I have so much to be grateful for: a healthy, strong body. An ever-changing, growing, agile, fragile, creative, and cranky mind. Children who are healthy and strong. A loving and generous husband. Family and friends who love us and support us. Faithful readers of this sometimes rational, sometimes wild blog.

5. The children and I are reading a book called "Child Slavery in Modern Times." Nine and ten year olds pressed into service in carpet factories. Four and five year olds working at brick making plants. Busting batteries in order to recycle the inner parts. Sweatshops. Sporting goods factories. Fruit and vegetable harvesters. Sex slaves. We are horrified. What shall we do?

6. While I seek out the right filters and gaskets for my coffee maker, children are harvesting coffee beans around the world. While I vacuum intricately woven carpets around my house, children are breaking and maiming their fingers so that I can have a "well-decorated home."

7. While I browse for birthday presents for my children and a new soup pot for winter feasts, there are mothers who long to have their children returned to them from factories, the armed services, and from death itself. (I saw Laurie Sanders last night at church. She looked better than she had earlier this summer, but pain is still etched deep into every crack and crevice of her being. The children and I continue to pray for her and her daughter daily.)

8. Last night, I wrote a college recommendation letter for my niece, Clare. She has made the extremely wise decision to apply early decision to Williams College. My alma mater! She wants to follow in my rather large footsteps. (I wear size 11 shoes; my footsteps really are large.) The thought of her wandering around that beautiful campus, eating in the same dining halls, attending classes in the same stately old buildings, gazing at works of art at the Williams College Museum of Art and the Clark Art Institute, meeting passionate and knowledgeable students and professors - knowing that she will share the honor and privilege of being an Eph in Williamstown, Massachusetts makes me glow with pride.

9. Why am I writing a letter of recommendation? Eons and eons ago, I worked in the admissions office there at Williams, and some of my colleagues are still working there. Plus Steve and I are both alums; we hope that our meager alumni fund giving will work in her favor.

10. What is an Eph (Pronouced "eeef")? The founder of Williams College was named Ephraim Williams, so all students at Williams are "Ephs." Not "Tar Heels" like the students of UNC, or "Trojans" like the UCLA students, or even "Lord Jeffs" like students at Amherst College - who happen to be Williams' prime competitors. Nope, we are "Ephs." Once you get over the initial shock of how ridiculous the name looks and sounds, you learn to wear it with pride.

11. Tonight I am going to a support meeting for homeschooling moms. A special appeal has gone out for "veteran homeschoolers" to come and encourage those who are new to homeschooling. At the meeting I attended last week, we went around the circle introducing outselves and telling how long we've been homeschooling. I was the homeschooler with the most experience. I was surprised by that revelation and a little sobered by it as well. My daughter is in 8th grade now, and she has never attended traditional school. My son is in 5th grade, and the same is true of him. I guess I have been doing this for a long time, but I cannot imagine NOT homeschooling them.

Earlier that day, I had a conversation with a friend who expressed support and respect for this enormous undertaking, but who was also frank about the real sense of being overwhelmed at the rather ambitious decision to educate one's own children. I don't deny that I feel overwhelmed at times with this commitment. With high school less than a year away, however, I'd better be sure that I want to continue with this. As of this moment, I am sure.... Right now - thirty seconds later - I'm not so sure. Gulp.

12. I'm meeting up with Katie in a couple of hours for coffee and conversation. A sunny Charlotte afternoon. Coffee (or sweet tea) with one of my favorite people in the world. Sharing stories, telling tales, laughing, commiserating, what more could I want today?

13. keeps sending me scary messages about losing the connection. I'm gonna go ahead and publish this before I lose it entirely. Please pardon any spelling or grammar mistakes. I'll come back later and make any necessary corrections.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"I am not my hair.

I am not this skin.
I am not your expectations, no.
I am not my hair.
I am not this skin.
I am the soul that lives within."
India Arie

Last week, the kids and I dropped off our minivan and the dealership to have one of the sliding doors repaired. From the dealership, we walked about 3/4 of a mile to a shopping plaza where we wandered around, ate dinner, and waited for Steve to pick us up on his way home from work. One of the things I picked up at Target was the newest India Arie CD entitled, "Testimony: vol. 1, Life and Relationship." Powerful lyrics. Gentle melodies. Many beautifully written songs. Like the one I quoted here.

I am not my hair. Dreadlocs. Kinky. Highlighted in shades of red. Decorated with wires and beads. Some people see my hair and think I'm a rastafarian or a vegetarian or in a reggae band. Some people think I'm a radical revolutionary, looking to overthrow or reject the mainstream culture. Others think I look down on or reject black women who have chosen to straighten their hair. (I know all that because I have had conversations with people where they have shared their assumptions with me.) To all of them, I say, "I am not my hair."

There are times, however, when I must turn that statement around in my mind and remind myself that no one I see is their hair. Spiky, dyed hair. Long blonde hair. Short, well-groomed hair. White people with fuzzy and thick dreadlocs of their own. Black women with extensions. White women with extensions. The nurse at the vet's office who has no hair - the obvious result of treatment for a medical condition. The pastor at Katie's church who has no hair because of a genetic miscue. I know a woman who says of herself, "I act a lot more blonde than I pay to be." I laugh. And then I must remember, she is not her hair. You are not your hair. None of us is our hair.

I am not this skin, brown and beautiful, though it is.
Steve is not his skin, white and hairy though it is.
We judge each other far too quickly because of our skin, our eye color, the shape of our eyes, the shape of our bodies, our hands, our feet. Or the lack of shape. The misshapenness. The shapes that used to be, but have been lost due to weight gain, weight loss, amputation, or disfiguration.

I am not your expectations. I won't be perfect. I won't be happy. I won't be strong. I won't be reasonable, fair, gentle, forgiving, humble, accepting, flexible, or gracious. I won't be available, patient, or open. I won't be on time. I won't be articulate. I won't take your abuse. I won't be hospitable. I won't be predictable. I can't be or meet your expectations. I refuse to even try.

As we walked from the car dealership to Target that day, I had a pre-CD thought that fits right in. There we were, walking along a very busy road, talking, laughing, looking at cars in the dealership parking lots. I was explaining to them why there are so many brands of cars in each lot: they didn't know about trade-ins and used car sales. We looked at drivers whizzing past in their cars, and I imagined that they thought that we didn't own a car. Perhaps we were walking to the bus stop. I wanted to flag them down and explain our situation: " We aren't poor. We have three cars. We live well. Our house is great. Our lives are great. We are going back to Spain next spring." Then I thought, "Who cares if we are poor or how many cars we have? What difference does it make? Gail, you are not your car. Your cars are just things that you own. They are not your family, your pride and joy. These two gorgeous children matter so much more than any car."

Later that night, I listened to the CD, to this song, to all of the songs.
This one stuck.

I am not my hair. I am not this skin. I am not your expectations, no.
I am not my hair. I am not this skin. I am the soul that lives within.

The next day, I journaled about that song. And added to the list:

I am not my house, my car, my jewelry, my husband, my children, or my clothes.
I am not my passport stamps, my church responsibilities, nor am I a Barbie doll.
I am not my writing career or my willingness to promote someone else's writing career.
I am not my mother, my brothers, or my sisters-in-law.
I am not my vocabulary, my proficiency in Spanish, or my reputation.
I am not my skirts, my flat shoes, or my big earrings.
I am not my blog, my journal, or my political leanings.
I am not my homeschooling decision, my speaking engagements,
or anyone else's expectations of how all those parts of me fit together.
Or don't fit together.

I am the soul that wonders, wanders, lives, loves, and laughs.
Sometimes I live well. Sometimes foolishly.
I am myself, my free-thinking, flashy, true, honest self.
I am my fearful, anxious, prickly, desperate, lonely self.
I am a dreamer, lover, thinker, questioner, doubter,
seeker, and finder.

I think gentle thoughts and angry thoughts.
I have peaceful dreams and dangerous dreams.
I hope for simple things and complicated things.

And I wouldn't have it - or me - any other way.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Falling into Fall

Leonie's post on springing into spring got me to thinking ( check it out at First of all, it's somewhat mind-boggling to me to think of celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas in shorts and bathing suits by the sea. Secondly, I've gotta get to the land down under sometime. Not only would I love to meet Leonie in person, but I'd also like to visit the Hillsongs Church and hear that amazing choir in person. Hmmm... I guess I've got a trip to plan.

As much as I look forward to that journey, I know it's a long way off. So for now, I will focus my attention on the here and now. The arrival of autumn, the foliage of fall, the end of summer.

What do I hope for and look forward to this fall?
What do I want the fall of 2006 to be remembered for?

- hunkering down with the kids for homeschooling

- hot tea as we read and journal. Sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes here in the homeschooling room, sometimes out on the deck in the cool morning air

- creating cards for the holidays and other celebrations

- joyous birthday celebrations: Antonio's birthday today. Daniel's 10th birthday this Friday. Kristiana's 13th birthday the day before Halloween. My 41st big day in December.

- regular exercise to stave off the layer of blubber that can accumulate during the long winter months

- preparation for the trip to Spain and the class on journaling I will teach there

- speaking words of encouragement and support to the social workers on Halloween

- a renewal of commitment, love, and passion to Steve and to our marriage

- resurrecting our old favorite winter recipes: vegetarian sweet potato chili, orzo soup with ground turkey meatballs, italian wedding soup, caramelized onion pizza, baked brie with almonds and brown sugar, apple cobbler

- discovering new recipes for soups and stews to keep us warm and strong

- finding a sturdy and weighty soup pot in which to bring those recipes to life - on sale, of course

- an all-day writing retreat this Saturday and coming home with lots of ideas to keep me writing all fall and winter

- new seasons of ER and The Office

- always giving thanks for the bounty we enjoy

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Behold, all things are new...

On Saturday, I finished a journal. Filled the last page. Flipped back through the entirety of the volume and marveled at how much I've learned, grown, changed, and experienced in the past six weeks or so. My time in New York with my writing group. The beginning of baseball and softball season for the kids. A new year of homeschooling. Meeting up with a group of black homeschooling moms and listening with rapt attention to all the great ideas they have about field trips, the study of states and maps, and the study of African-American history. A painful, but necessary confrontation with my mother-in-law - things are better now. And me - I'm growing up. I'm growing deeper. I'm learning to accept the things and people I cannot change. To ignore the things and people I cannot change. And the wisdom to know the difference.

When one journal ends, I go into my closet, reach up to the high shelf and pull down a new one. Empty pages. Crisp pages. Waiting to be filled. Covered with commentary, questions, and answers. What will I learn? How will I be different when this one is finished? There's nothing quite as promising to me as the prospect of pouring out my thoughts, dreams, wishes, sorrows, and disappointments into a new journal.

Steve and I have decided to reinstate an old habit of ours: date night. Years and years and eons ago, we used to set aside Thursday nights as our date night. We'd put the kids to bed early, order something special from a restaurant, or I'd make a special dinner, crack open a fine bottle of white zinfandel, and settle in for an evening together. Television or a movie or a long conversation or other activities... It was a special time for us: neither of us planned anything else on Thursday nights. If we were invited someplace, we "had plans" and couldn't attend. If work threatened to run late, Steve would do all he could to wrap things up early.

But we fell out of that habit, let other things get in the way, and have consequently grown apart in many ways. Distant. Lately, I've felt somewhat isolated and lonely in our marriage. Sadly, we are not alone in this situation. Gladly, we are not resolved to stay in this situation. So last night, Mom came over to watch the kids, and Steve and I went out.

First stop was the South Park Mall. He doesn't especially like to shop for himself, but he's great at shopping for me. In Macy's he spotted a beautiful and colorful skirt I had walked past. He went to get me the correct size when the first one didn't fit. He found two others that I wouldn't have bought because I have skirts in very similar colors - but if he's buying, I'm trying. We went into several other stores, commented on the people we saw, the ridiculously large Polo horsemen that Ralph Lauren has begun to put in his shirts, and otherwise entertained ourselves at The High Holy Tabernacle of Consumerism of South Charlotte. I don't have the heart to tell him that most men don't like to shop as much as he does - at least not as long as he continues to be contented with keeping me in fine new skirts.

From there, we went to Miro, a favorite local restaurant. Where everybody knows our names. Well, at least the bartenders do. They know what we like to eat and drink. They welcome us with open arms every time we go; literally, the two young men who work behind the bar come out to where we are sitting and greet us personally. We have seen photos of their children, heard stories of home repairs, and tales of vacation follies. After being greeted and served, as we sat talking and enjoying our time together, Steve and I commented that even though we are resuming an old pattern from years ago, it feels new again.

Almost two years ago now, the pastor of our church resigned. It was a terribly sorrowful time for me as I appreciated his preaching style, his way of thinking, and the fact that he too kept a journal. He is a man who loves the Word of God and loves to share it with others. But all was not well within the church at the time, and he decided to leave Calvary Church and serve God elsewhere. After a time of searching and waiting, we welcomed a new pastor to our church this past January. Six months later, a new minister of worship and arts joined the church staff.

Tonight, I returned home from the evening service and realized that yet another thing in my life is new. Renewed, really. I love my church again.

Even as I wrote that last statement, I shuddered. It's not that I stopped loving my church. It's not that I stopped going to church. For me, going to church is not about hearing or watching or seeing a pastor. It's not about listening to a concert or choir. Church is not a spectator sport; at least it isn't for me.

Church is a place to meet with others who have made a similar commitment to love, know and serve God with our lives. We all stumble and fall. We all suffer with doubts, fears, illnesses, and the devastating loss of loved ones. The good news is that we get to bear one another's burdens, share one another's joys, and learn from each other as we learn from God's Word. We laugh together, cry together, share stories of the road, and together seek ways to become the people we have been called to be.

What is new for me now, tonight, is that there is renewed joy, gladness, community, and expectations of continued growth with the coming of these two new pastors. Will they mess up and let me down at some point? Undoubtedly. Will I do and say things that upset and offend them at some point? Most assuredly.

But here's the thing: just as I began a new journal today, just as Steve and I reinstated a former habit of time away and alone, I also get to begin a new chapter in the story of my spiritual life and reinstate the habit of smiling and offering a silent word of thanks to God every time I drive past the big pink church in South Charlotte.

(Check it out: If you follow the link to the Spanish congregation, you will sneak a peek at Pastor Jorge Prado, the Brazilian man who preaches in Spanish and whose Portu-Spanish utterances I translate into English. On the spot. On the pulpit. Sometimes, it seems, by the seat of my pants. And the tab that mentions the bi-monthly Saturday morning study for Spanish-speaking women, that is led by yours truly. Sometimes it feels like the blind leading the blind, but at least we are in it together. Learning together. Living, learning, and walking together on this life journey.)

A new start.
All things are new.
What's new with you?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Small Wonders

- cookies baked by my children

- rainy days

- climbing out of bed this morning and putting on a robe
is so much better than climbing out of bed and cranking
the air conditioning up to full blast

- calling Katie to tell her I wouldn't make it to
her church service today and having her be
completely understanding and supportive

- another excellent morning of homeschooling

- helping Daniel memorize something he was having trouble
with and watching his eyes and spirit light up as he
mastered his new skill

- putting new pillows on my bed and then sinking low in them
to read and journal

- listening to my daughter's footsteps as she comes down
the hall and plops into bed with me: two geeks in a pod.

- more closet and cabinet purging today

- the children's excitement as they rediscover games that had
been hidden under the stuff we've gotten rid of

- Maya is figuring out when we are leaving the house as a family:
she walks into her crate without having to be chased down and scolded

- She hasn't had an accident in the house in _________. I won't
say how long because I don't want her to read over my shoulder
and break her record. (Did I mention how smart she is?)

- Steve Martin's book entitled Shopgirl. Very gently written. Describing the relationship between two distant lovers: "Some nights, alone, he thinks of her, and some nights, alone, she thinks of him. Some nights these thoughts, separated by miles and time zones, occur at the same objective moment, and Ray and Mirabelle are connected without ever knowing it."

- More insight from Moving On. The current chapter is about
marriage. Here's a quote from Katherine Butler Hathaway that is included in Sarah Ban Breathnach's book: "The change of life is the time when you meet yourself at the crossroads and you decide whether to be honest or not before you die."

Small wonders.
Big questions.

Binge and purge...

Some days I buy. I store. I hoard. I binge.
On other days, I sort. I discard. I donate. I purge.
Yesterday was a day of sorting, discarding, donating, and purging.

It all started with me reading another chapter of Sarah Ban Breathnach's book, Moving On. A chapter about learning to let go of what is clogging us up, clogging up our homes, closets, pantries, hearts, and souls. She asked the reader, me, to think about the room in my house that I least like to enter. The closets and cabinets I least like to open.

Ironically, in my case it is our family room. The shrine of the television. The PlayStation. The DVD player. And all the stuff that goes along with the electronic altar. There are beautiful dark wood built-in cabinets and shelves in that room. Jammed with videos, DVDs, books, photo albums, games, puzzles, our 100-CD CD player, and all CD boxes for the CDs. Full. Overflowing. Coated with dust and cobwebs. You get the picture.

What has been my response to the mess in there? I ignore it. I avoid the family room at all costs. (Which explains why I missed the ant invasion in there last week.)

So I put the book down on the kitchen counter and went into the family room. Then I turned around and went back into the kitchen - to get two bags for garbage. Attack! Videos of Elmo, Veggie Tales, and Beauty and the Beast in Spanish. Movies recorded from television onto video tapes - movies that we now own on DVD. Empty video cases. Workbooks filled out at conferences we attended more than ten years ago. Jars of jam I stole from the hotel we stayed at in Hawaii on our honeymoon. Empty scotch bottles. Old Matchbox cars.

What on earth was I thinking when I packed up that stuff in Connecticut and moved it all down here to Charlotte? What was I thinking when I unpacked it and put it up on the shelves of our family room? I have no rational answer to those questions, and none is needed. The most important thing is that now those old things are gone, either in the garbage container at the curb or in bags that will be carted to Good Will later today.

From there, I moved my psychic wrecking ball back into the kitchen. Under the sink: old dust rags. Parts of mops that I no longer own. Dead sponges that should have been tossed into the trash eons ago instead of under the sink. Under the two sinks in our bathroom, more of the same. Yuck and yikes. In the linen closet, I found sheets and towels that we have had since before we were married. (For those of you not keeping score at home, this past June we celebrated 15 years of marriage!) Ragged. Threadbare. Unused. But clogging up space is a very small closet. In the homeschool room, I tossed out pencils without erasers and points, old sports team schedules, and random bits of paper that have long since lost all significance.

What I found most intriguing was the abundance of things I discovered in the cabinets and under the sinks. I found cleaning supplies: unused sponges, drain clearers, and a bottle of spray that is meant to kill mildew at the root. I found unused dust cloths and towels. I found blank pads of paper and custom stationery that bore our names and Connecticut address. I discovered a beautiful yellow sunflower journal. I found a stack of cards that explain musical keys and scales. I found boxes of colored pencils which I emptied into pencil cups all over the house. I found 8, 20, and 25 pound dumbbells. I found two unopened 1000 and 1500 piece puzzles. I found a set of king-size sheets in a deep, rich shade of blue. Unused for nearly four years now. Why? Because we no longer have a king-size bed. We now cuddle more closely on a queen bed.

So I wonder: what roots of mildewed thoughts, anger, and despair need to be killed? What words, works of art, and plans for the future need to fill those blank books? What about the old personalized stationery? We can cover it with scrapbook paper and use it to make artful cards and collages to send to friends. From our house to yours.

Kristiana will use the sunflower journal to record her thoughts as she flowers into a teenager - her 13th b-day is the 30th of October. We've all gotta use the colored pencils to fill our notebooks, our journals, and our hearts with colorful, delightful creations. Not just when we are "doing art," but everywhere we find ourselves. Last week, while playing the piano for the kids, I wished I knew more about scales and keys so that I would be able to play better without being completely dependent on the book. Voila!

No need to keep sheets and pillowcases that no long fit any beds in our home - just as there is no need to keep old patterns of thought, old ways of communication that fit our family before we had kids, before we lived in Charlotte, before I became the woman I am now.

And in all that I do, I find that the burdens and weights I am called to carry seem heavier all time. Those dumbbells reminded me that I must get emotionally, spiritually, and relationally stronger; daily workouts are a must. As for the puzzles, they are proof-positive that there are challenges still to come. In Spanish, the word for puzzles is "rompecabezas" --> head-breakers. The Lord knows that there are many head-breakers going on in my life right now, and there are many to come. Actually, we are planning to give the puzzles to one of Kristiana's friends, a buddy who likes to do them. Not me. In games, as in life, sometimes I pass the head-breakers on to folks who don't mind busting their heads over them. I mind.

The temptation is to run out and buy new sheets and towels. To fill the spaces where old videos were with new videos. To buy games we've eyed at Target. To stock up on doo-dads and widgets for future use. To not leave any vacuum unfilled.

For now, I will resist the temptation. Enjoy the empty places. I simply got rid of things we weren't using. The stuff we need and like is still there. From now on, I can and will take greater joy in our family room and in our family. The kids marveled at how much better the shelves looked. Steve noticed the difference as soon as he sat down to worship, I mean, watch tv. (Smile, babe.) Perhaps the time will come to buy fresh towels and replace old sheets, but for now what we have is more than enough. Simply abundant. Abundantly more simple. We don't need a thing.

Yesterday I purged.
Today I feel lighter. Freer.
Less fearful of the unknown hiding in those deep, dark cabinets.
There is room to breathe.
Room to properly store the things that we love.
I know what's in there, what's under there.
I have more than I need.
I have always had more than I need.
Now I can enjoy it all, all the more.

This is the quote that I read in Moving On when I was done with my work and sat down to finish the chapter that had prompted my purge.

"Although I can't prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt,
I believe with soulful certainty that there is
a direct correlation between the amount of
discontent, discomfort, and pain
you are experiencing in your life right now
and the amount of unwanted but not discarded possessions
- or emotional attachments - you're holding onto and storing."


Monday, September 11, 2006

Someone else's thoughts on this day.

Please check out this blog on lessons Christians haven't learned in the five years since the world as we knew it changed. There is much to ponder and discuss.

Thanks, Nancy, for the link.

Peace, Gail

Do you remember where you were?

When you first heard the news of the tragedy? You know which tragedy, which horror I'm referring to. Where were you?

I was in the homeschool room at our house in Connecticut. Talking, writing, teaching, laughing. The phone rang. I don't usually answer the phone when "class is in session," but the caller ID identified a friend who never called for frivolous reasons. She said, "I hate to bother you, but I know you aren't watching television, so I'm calling you to tell you to turn on your TV." I did. I saw the second plane hit the second tower.

I fell to my knees.
Wailed. Out loud.

The kids came running to my side, asking, "What's wrong?" At seven and four years of age, they couldn't understand. So I turned off the television, wiped my eyes, and went back to homeschooling. Weeping inwardly. Praying without ceasing all that morning. Later that afternoon, we went for a walk in our sunny, beautiful Silvermine neighborhood. It was a gloriously bright day, blue skies, cloudless. The children marveled at the turning of the leaves, the heights from which the leaves fell to the ground, and the quietness of the streets. I figured everyone was either inside watching television or at the beach watching the smoke plumes billowing high above New York City.

At one point, we walked past a golf course clubhouse, and several of the wait staff were sitting outside smoking and talking quietly. After commenting on the beauty of the day, I said, "It seems almost impossible to imagine all that is going on in New York City right now." Silent, somber head nods were the only response they could muster.

As Americans,
as Europeans,
as Middle Easterners,
as Africans,
as Latinos,
as Asians,
as citizens of this planet,
we all knew that day
that our lives
our nations
our world
would never be the same.

Thanks in part to the wonderful insulation that homeschooling can provide, it was six months later when I finally told Kristiana that the events we'd watched that morning had taken place in New York City. As we drove into Brooklyn to visit my family, I pointed to the hole in the sky where the Twin Towers had once loomed so indomitably. They were no more. How the mighty had fallen. I, like my children, looked up to marvel at the heights from which the leaves of paper, the personal effects, the photographs, and the bodies of innocent people had fallen, and wondered at the eerie quietness resounding from Ground Zero.

Five years on.
Moments of silence.
Memories. Monuments.
Tears of fear, despair, sorrow.
Readings of victims' names.
Prayers offered up.
Soldiers and civilians struck down
as a result.

Some people refuse to fly on this date.
Some refuse to fly ever again.
Some vow vengeance.
Some vow increased understanding.
Some say that our presence in Afghanistan, Iraq,
and elsewhere are necessary and make us safe here at home.
Some say we need our soldiers, our beloved sons and daughters,
right here at home. Safe at our sides. In our arms.

Daniel and Steve returned from their weekend in Boston about an hour ago. Daniel told me that there weren't many people in the airports (they had a short layover in Baltimore), and asked if I knew why that was so. "No, Daniel. Why do you think so?" "Because it's September 11th." No more innocence, now he knows a little bit more of the evil that lurks in the hearts of some.

I thought to myself: I know what day it is, my dear boy.
And all morning, I prayed for your safe return.
For your father's safe return.
For protection, not only for you, but for all.
For everyone everywhere.

Today as I awaited the telephone call signaling their safe landing in Charlotte, I was reminded again of the countless mothers in countries, cities, and towns where bombs and rockets rain down over them every day who pray daily for the safe return of their children and other loved ones. I wonder how it is possible to awaken every morning to look down into new craters where buildings had stood the night before. To walk to shops and schools passing fresh corpses and newly bombed residences where life and living had existed only hours earlier? Are they safer and better off today than they were five years ago? Are we?

On this day of remembrance, my mind wanders.
Questions surge.

Do we mourn the dead and dying?
Or do we celebrate the life we have, births and marriages?
Is it morbid to mourn or selfish to celebrate?
Do I homeschool as usual or take the day off to remember?

War rages on around us.
Rage wears on all of us.

Kill or be killed.
Forgive and be forgiven.

Give war a chance.
Give peace a chance.

Lay low.
Live out loud.

Who are we as a nation on this fifth anniversary of horror?
Who am I?
Where are we as a nation on the road to peace and security?
Where am I?

May God have mercy on us all.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A few of my favorite (and least favorite) things...

Things I don't like:

- the fact that an unfinished home in our neighborhood burned down two nights ago
- the death of Steve Irwin
- cancer, diabetes, excema, pink eye, high cholesterol, and the like
- when people throw lit cigarettes out of their car windows
- all litter, for that matter - especially the stuff on the side of the highway. Why do people open their car windows and throw their junk out into the world???
- airport delays and flight cancellations
- airplane crashes
- how far away I am from so many of the people I love
- divorce and its aftermath
- "bathroom" humor of any kind
- sarcasm
- criticism, especially when it is behind the back of the person being criticized
- to cook and clean up the kitchen; I'm not a bad cook, but I'd give up cooking in a heartbeat if I could find a good and inexpensive alternative
- the fact that one of the sliding doors in the minivan no longer functions. We had this same problem about a year ago and had it fixed. Now it's bad again.
- when my children talk back and are disobedient, especially over little stuff like dessert portions and bedtime routines
- how superficial I can be sometimes with regard to how I look and what I wear
- how fearful I can be sometimes about saying what I think and feel, especially when the person I am speaking with doesn't want to know how I really think and feel. The tension can be too much at times.
- feeling lonely
- feeling incompetent or unnecessary

Things I like and am grateful for:

- my morning coffee or tea
- brown sugar and skim milk for my morning fix
- the sound of silence as my children read
- the sound of laughter as they play
- fresh, pure water for showering, drinking, and cooking with
- soothing creams for my dry skin
- being in reasonably good health
- having comprehensive medical and dental insurance, just in case that changes
- Uniball Vision Elite pens in fine point and various colors
- the journal pages I fill with tales of joy and sorrow
- how much better I always feel after journaling
- the Great Harvest Bread Company's freshly baked whole wheat bread
- that same bread, toasted with butter and apricot preserves
- restaurants that cook healthy, creative, delicious food
- silver rings and bracelets
- the country of Spain: my friends there, the food, the lifestyle, the art and architecture. I'm heading to Sevilla on October 6th!
- the colorful flowers and lush green plants that are thriving in our front and back yard
- the opportunity to be a full-time, homeschooling mother
- the telephone and the internet: catching up is grand...
- running into a local news broadcaster at the supermarket today: I thanked him for doing a good job on the news. As he walked out, he waved at me. Thanks to you, Rene Romo.
- seeing Bob, Sherry, Andrew, Laura, and Oreo Artemenko this past weekend
- cars that function and mechanics that help when the cars don't function (Gonna get the minivan door fixed next week. It's still under warranty from the last repair!!!)
- music on the radio
- driving in the car with my kids and talking to them about their lives, school subjects, the world, and all sorts of other things. I've SOOOOO glad we don't have a television in the car. It's the best place for non-stop, undisturbed conversation. They ask great questions.

It's not perfect.
It's not even close.
But my life is pretty good.
Tonight, I am thankful.

PS. The time indicated at the end of the blogs is the moment I begin to write a blog. Several errands, a homeschooling gathering at the park, a trip to the supermarket later, I am posting at 8:05 pm or so.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

So much to share...

So little time to give details. Here's a sampling...

- another talk coming up on Halloween: I will speak to a group of social workers about how to keep their work in the proper balance with the rest of their lives. How to keep morale high. How to keep joy high. How to live well. I sometimes wonder about those things myself... But I guess I'll share a few of my own tricks as well as a few treats.

- I updated the Norton Personal Firewall yesterday and was immediately booted off the internet. In desperation, I called Bell South, our internet provider, and was connected to Carlos. He walked me through the steps of restoring Internet service... until I restarted the firewall, that is. The firewall was a little too high and a little too protective. Needless to say, that got me to thinking. More to come...

- Nosy consumer that I am, I asked Carlos where he was located: Costa Rica. Pura vida! We spent the rest of the conversation going back and forth between English and Spanish. If I have to spend 45 minutes on the phone figuring out what's wrong with my computer, it may as well be with somebody from Costa Rica!

- the kids and I are learning about the Civil War. The more we read, the more I realize that I know very little about that war. Over 10,000 battles. Over 1,000,000 people died, were mortally wounded, or permanently disabled as a result. Amazing stuff.

- I'm reading a book called Driving Over Lemons. It's the story of an English couple that bought a dilapidated farm in Southern Spain and restored it. Sheep herds. Dogs that refused to be trained. Chickens. Neighbors. Building bridges. A wonderful picture of life in rural Spain. A far cry from Under the Tuscan Sun - this is not a book about gourmet meals and strolls to the local duomo. This is the real life of farmers battling scorpions, drought, and rivers that wash away handmade bridges. Funny. Revealing. Delightfully written.

- I've gone out for a couple of morning walks this week with Kristiana. We talk, jog, observe nature, and marvel at the steady stream of school buses that traipse through our neighborhood. I'm so glad she doesn't have to ride a bus to school every day. I'd much rather walk with her than wave good-bye to her.

- Daniel and his challenge baseball team participated in a tournament this weekend. They did fairly well, considering the fact that they'd never even practiced together: they won two games and lost two games. There is a girl on his team, Abby. Long blonde ponytail hanging out of the back of her helmet, she is quite the skillful little ball player. Fielding, batting, stealing bases, she's a joy to watch. It's a lot of fun to watch the opponents, their coaches, and their families watch her. We think she may be the first woman to play in the Major League someday. She's the real deal. Go, Abby!

- Speaking of Major League baseball, Steve and Daniel are off to Boston this weekend to watch a couple of games at Fenway Park. I am beginning to believe that the two of them are planning to see every major league park in the country, true baseball lovers that they are. So far, they've been to Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium for the Mets, Coors Field for the Colorado Rockies, Camden Yards for the Baltimore Orioles, as well as four or five minor league parks. Yeah for them.

- Perhaps Kristiana and I should begin to compile a list of museums we would like to see in our lifetime together. So far, we've hit several museums in New York, Connecticut, North and South Carolina, Madrid, Rome, London, and a few I've forgotten about, I'm sure. And those are only art museums. That doesn't include natural history museums or children's science museums.

- On the downside, a friend's husband was just diagnosed with prostate cancer - this just a couple of years after him being diagnosed with a brain disorder that caused seizures. Bill and Jill, you are in my thoughts and prayers.

- The whole "immigration problem" hit close to home recently. A family from the Spanish congregation was deported back to their own country this past weekend. I understand that unchecked immigration is a serious problem for our nation, but I also understand that poverty, unemployement, disease, and lack of education is a serious problem in the nations from which these people are fleeing. So many questions, so many points of view. And so many millions of people affected by the outcome of these discussions.

- another classic Charlotte ant invasion is underway in our home.
These little critters are not easily deterred.
Any ideas on how to keep them at bay???

- Steve was attacked by a bunch of red ants at the aforementioned baseball tournament, and his ankle is still swollen. (Do we live in Wild Kingdom or what???)

It's been an eventful five days.
Life is good. Busy. Colorful. Maddening. Frustrating.
And more so every day.